Gary Comstock
Gary Comstock
Professor of Philosophy North Carolina State University
Joined OEC on 11/10/2017
Gary L. Comstock is professor of philosophy at North Carolina State University where he conducts research on ethical questions in the biological sciences. His most recent book is Research Ethics: A Philosophical Guide to the Responsible Conduct of Research. One critic pronounced his earlier book Vexing Nature? On the Ethical Case Against Agricultural Biotechnology a "watershed" in the discussion of genetically modified foods; another declared Comstock's nuanced treatment of the issue "virtually unprecedented in applied philosophy." On the HumanFor two years (2007-09), Comstock was ASC Fellow of the National Humanities Center. He continued there for another three years (2009-2012) as Editor-in-chief of On the Human, the Center's digital humanities project. Comstock directs the online OpenSeminar in Research Ethics, and is editor of two more books, Life Science Ethics (2002, 2010) and Is There a Moral Obligation to Save the Family Farm? (1987). Prior to his current position, Comstock directed the NC State research and professional ethics program, and was assistant, associate, and professor of religious studies at Iowa State University. There he produced a textbook, Religious Autobiographies (1994, 2003), won his College's Award for Excellence in Outreach, and helped to establish the Bioethics Institute, a faculty development workshop that assisted five hundred scientists integrating discussions of ethics into their courses. He is past president of the Society for Agriculture and Human Values and a popular speaker who has lectured across Europe and in Russia, Israel, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, and Belize. His work has been translated into Spanish, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Bulgarian. OpenSeminar in Research EthicsComstock's current project explores the central dogma of the humanities, that humans are singular among and superior to other life forms, a belief recent developments in the life and information sciences seem to call into question. In a manuscript provisionally titled "Singularity and Superiority," he discusses comparative cognitive psychology, evolutionary biology, and ethology--areas now attesting to apparent quasi-human emotional and cognitive capacities in some mammals. If we may no longer consider ourselves morally superior to all nonhuman animals, there is reason to wonder, too, whether cyborgs might one day be morally considerable. Work in nanotechnology, computer "self-programming," and robotics presents the possibility that future learning machines might exhibit behaviors analagous to what we experience as emotion, cognition, and planning. The most important practical implication of the humanities' dogma is that humans are entitled to treat animals and machines instrumentally. However, if scientific advances in human self-understanding and developments in computer technology are in fact narrowing the presumed gap between the capacities of humans, animals and machines, dramatic implications for practical ethics follow. If the central dogma falls, will its practical implication fall too? If we may no longer assume human singularity, may we continue to treat animals as meat and intelligent computers as appliances? To begin answering such questions, Comstock focuses on the meaning, scope, and moral significance of conations. Conations are desirings--efforts, attempts--psychological capacities we find even in the most unfortunate among us. To the extent that we recognize the simple interests of severely congenitally cognitively impaired humans, on what grounds do we refuse to recognize more complex nonhuman animal interests? And eventually, perhaps, cyborg interests? Comstock has previously served as principal investigator, co-PI or consultant on some thirty grants totaling more than a million dollars, including major awards from the European Commission, the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Agriculture, and the National Agricultural Biotechnology Council. With Professors Brenda Alston-Mills and Christine Grant at NC State, he directs the project to create "A Model Curriculum for Land Grant Universities in Research Ethics" (LANGURE). He is also a co-PI of the initiative directed by Professor Chi Archibong at NC A&T University to Extend and Assess Research Ethics (EAREE). LANGURE and EAREE are supported by the National Science Foundation. Comstock earned graduate degrees from the University of Chicago after his undergraduate work at Wheaton College where he met his wife, Karen Werner Comstock, the designer. They have three children--Krista, Ben, and Drew--whose grandparents are Roy and Marie Comstock of Wheaton, Illinois, and Harold and the late Jeanne Werner of Silverton, Oregon.
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Cite this page: "Gary Comstock" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 11/10/2017 OEC Accessed: Tuesday, December 12, 2017 <>